×

Sundance Festival Directors Put a Premium on Inclusion

Amid the calls for leadership diversity at film festivals, Sundance director John Cooper did something about it: promoting feature programmer Kim Yutani to become the fest’s director of programming in May. Aside from her Asian-American heritage and gender, this appointment makes Sundance the first major film festival with two LGBT leaders. Yutani and Cooper previously worked at Outfest L.A.

“She has incredible taste and an understanding of what festival curation is, as opposed to just a critical eye,” Cooper says of Outfest’s former artistic director. “A kicker was that she knows a lot of the industry around the world. I started getting such great feedback from people outside the U.S. of how much she was respected, especially as we build up our world cinema presence. It just all fell into place.”

“Once Trevor [Groth, the previous director] announced that he was leaving [to join marketing and distribution company 30West], it really made me think: What is the next step in my career?,” Yutani says. “Being director of programming was never necessarily a goal. I was always happy doing what I was doing. But I think that him leaving really pushed me to think about how I want to challenge myself.”

Other fest execs feel optimistic about the appointment. “As members of the LGBTQ community, it’s only natural that John and Kim have brought a heightened awareness of underrepresented voices to their work,” says Robert Kushner, executive director of New York’s LGBTQ film festival NewFest. “I’m sure their partnership will translate into even greater mainstream representation of marginalized voices in film. The industry as a whole will be better off for that.”

Since this is the first Sundance with two out execs running the show, has it been reflected at the fest in any way? “We always program with representation and gender parity in our minds,” Yutani says. “And sometimes it works out that you have a higher representation of women, or not. This year I feel like the process was really organic, and I’m happy about that because it makes it seem like me being in this position means something, but at the same time, I think as a team we are always thinking about gender and who is being represented in our program.”

The 2019 slate includes such LGBTQ-themed films as Rhys Ernst’s Next section coming-of-age drama “Adam” and the U.S. Dramatic Competition lesbian drama “To the Stars.” Among the 61 directors of 56 films playing in four competition categories, 42% are women; 39% are people of color; and 23% are people who identify as LGBTQ.

Those statistics are from a new analysis by Sundance and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, to be discussed at a Jan. 25 panel. Other panels that will explore diversity include the “decolonization” of indie film, transgender storytelling, Native Americans and African-Americans in film, the impact of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the new docuseries “Loyalty: Stories” covering portraits of Muslim military personnel and the world premiere of the New York Times’ Op-Docs series episode “Travelling While Black.”

“Our women’s initiative is ongoing, as is our Native American and Indigenous Film Program,” Cooper notes. But he seems most interested in the results of the Sundance/USC Annenberg analysis. “There’s a survey where they identify what the independent world looks like by gender, race, sexual orientation, the whole thing. I have a sense that there’s lots of work to still be done on financing and getting things into production. That’s something that we don’t control as much at the festival, but we might have more influence on it with the Sundance Institute at large.”

Sundance has long reflected LGBTQ issues, so any changes with two gay execs leading the fest might not be that apparent. But could there be a return of the Queer Lounge, which ran in Park City from 2004-11? “I don’t know,” Cooper jokes. “Every lounge is a queer lounge at Sundance.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Inside an Inox Leisure multiplex in

    India's Inox Multiplex Chain Reveals Ambitious Growth Plans

    Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious plans to more than double its existing screen capacity of 600. The company is planning to add 900 more screens across the country over the next decade. “That’s the realistic answer, but my desire is to do it over the next five years,” Siddharth Jain, director, Inox [...]

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Dominates With Soft $36 Million

    Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, flew lower than the original and debuted to a disappointing $36 million from 2,790 [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content